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   Chapter 8 Romeo

Stolen Souls (boy x boy) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 20488

Updated: 2018-01-22 19:07

I've never fainted before. It just isn't my style, and after someone aims a pistol at your head or slips a cyanide tablet into your morning vitamins, nothing else is fainting-material.

But Jules' voice makes the birdies twitter and my vision go all spotty.

"Ros, " I say.

She leans back on her soles, swatting a curl of red hair out of her eyes. A grin cuts her face.

"Don't open the door, " I beg. "Please."

Kite pulls on her bandages with her teeth. They're looped around her arms, clean white strips that suspiciously resemble toilet paper. Her jean jacket is stained with blood, big brown blotches at the wrists and elbows. She shrugs.

"Aww, " Ros says, "you're scared of meeting your crush again?" She pats me on the head and straightens the dirty sleeves of her faded jacket, the dark material almost gone gray. I stumble back, gripping the table so hard a new jolt tears through the pink seams that stitch my flesh together. My cheeks flush with heat, but it's more fueled from holding back an angry scream than my feelings for Jules.

The door thumps again, so loud I hear it with a squeal of battered hinges. "Shiro, I'm sorry." There's an edge to it, too, something so urgent I itch to cross the blood-soaked carpet and let him in. It's a struggle to connect the cute, quiet boy in Biology class to the one who called me un-human and aimed a stupid stake at my stupid heart. And now he shows up at my door after insulting me. After trying to kill me.

I shove my fold-up chair under the table and launch toward the percolator. The muscles in my legs feel like lead from all my running and rolling and hiding. Not to mention one is still numb and shaky from going dead on me last night. I'm already calculating the distance between Ros and the door. No way I can cut in before she lets Jules into the apartment; she's just too fast. So I fling the peeling cupboards open insteaf and rifle through the dusty dishes, and stemware, and mugs. One mug has blue flowers on it, the musty smell so strong my head feels light.

The door creaks. I ignore the thick fluffs of gray on the bottom of the mug and slam it down on the counter. Kite stalks behind me, watching as I pour and pour coffee. My hands tremble, cold even as the black brine spills onto my skin with a sizzle like the sound of frying bacon. I'm on autopilot, all of me, as I chug the esophagus-melting-hot coffee down my throat. I can feel the skin peeling away off the roof of my mouth, but I just guzzle on, pursuing my self-destructive hobby with the ferocity of a crack addict.

"I'm sorry, kiddo." Ros' voice drips with honey, so out of place for her I know there's poison buried inside. I sigh and choke on my coffee, coughing so hard I spray the kitchen with spit. Kite slaps my back as steaming coffee chugs down my windpipe. "Shiro isn't here right now. Better go home to your rich mommy, little fella."

"Oh, hey, Roslyn." Jules yawns, and then the edge is back. "Look, no offense or anything, but I have ears. He's coughing up a third lung in there. Can I just..."

I sip down another gulp, just to force the rest down my throat. That's probably the opposite of what you're supposed to do when you're choking to death, but since death isn't all that much a concern for me, I let my throat sizzle away. My heart's pounding again now, my eyes pinned wide. The bitter taste leaves my hands quaking, but now that I'm awake, I point at the balcony. Kite nods. Ros isn't the only one who knows how to communicate with Kite without speaking. I draw up my breath and bolt, steps as light as I can make them while I'm stil hacking up black coffee.

"I don't think you understand me, " Ros says. "Shiro doesn't want to see you. So take your roses and shove them up your ass. Got it? Good."

The door slams and clicks closed, deadbolt and all, and though I think the lock is broken after the break-in from the Syn kids, it's still a small comfort. But I don't take chances; not my style either. I hit the tile, then the carpet, and then I'm slapping away vinyl blinds and shoving open a greasy glass sliding door that groans with a painful sound like the undead. It takes all my strength, but I tumble outside.

And into the sunlight.

I've always been sensitive sunlight, and it's only gotten worse the older I turn. Skin rashes, pain like liquid fire in my veins, and swollen, purple eyes. There's a balcony above that bathes three-quarters of ours in a thin, black shadow. Outside that and sunlight gleams off the abandoned street, each round of gravel glinting as if it was on fire. The dumpsters, the whirring AC units on the building opposite, they all shimmer with wavy lines of heat mirage. I press myself flat against the vinyl siding, breathing in slow, soft, calm dips. Even the curls of the balcony are glowing in the heat.

Tingles worm into my left arm. I swallow back a cry and bash it into the window, the pain shocking away the numbness that has begun to creep into the tender limb. You'd be surprised how much self-medication like that I have to do, but it's better than the alternative. Better than last night.

I slide my back against the door, freezing sweat breaking on my neck and shoulders. As I stare out at the rickety building so close if I leaned against the iron bars I could touch it, a shadow twitches in my peripherals.

Screw the sunlight. I rub my eyelids, which are already beginning to feel puffy under my fingertips, and bound toward the rails. They curl upward, the tips at the bars pointed the shape of the spiky fleur-de-lis, faded and stripped of paint. I've been doing a whole lot of running lately, and I can feel the exhaustion in every stumbling stride. I jump the railing, my recovering leg dragging on the iron posts. My face hits the gravel, weed stalks tangling with my hair, brushing my eyes. The heat is agonizing, like I've fallen onto hot coals. I scramble to my feet just when I hear Jules sigh.

"If I were a Shiro, where would I go? Out a window." He's turned it into a tune, too. Whistles it as he walks, crunching gravel as he approaches. To my broken eyes, he looks like

ream. Or a nightmare, more or less. And the fact that Jules is asking me out is the tipping point. The point where I stop caring what happens or what he thinks of me. Too bad. I used to think he was cute.

He tosses the roses over the balcony, and they land on my feet. The stems are twisted up, the flower heads so broken they make my heart squeeze. I just stare at them, bound up in their sheets of crinkly plastic. He pulls a pink post-it out of his pocket, the sunlight making it shimmer through. The thick pen strokes bleed through the paper.

Jules clears his throat, tucks a strand of black hair behind his ear. "Look, look. I'm sorry, okay? For taking part in your kidnapping and making you feel like a flaming pile of crap with that 'not a person' a bit. I just thought you were a serial killer at the time, so, yeah." He says it with such a monotone voice, staring at the post-it while my hands ball up, trembling at my sides.

I press my elbow into the rail, so close to him we're almost touching. The iron bars between us comforts me, even though we both know he can jump them.

"There's a lot you need to understand, " he says, "and I was wondering if I could talk more about it tonight, at the party uptow—"

I slap the note out of his hand and he looks up at me, his face flushed so red he looks like he'll blow any second. I smile, charming-like, my pulse beating in my ears, my hands quivering with caffeine shakes. My guts feel like they've been pumped with toxic sludge, and I wonder if I'm just sun-sick or if the river somehow fused with the rest of me when I broke.

"Ask me out, Jules, like a normal person." I click my tongue. The rest of me shakes along with my wired hands, not just from the caffeine. "Go on."

He narrows his eyes. Jaw clenches. But he smiles this big, toothy smile, strands of his hair gleaming in a sun arched high in the sky. "Shiro." He crosses his arms over his chest and tucks his hands under his armpits, probably to keep from strangling me with them. "Would you like to be my date for the party tonight?"

"No." I turn on my heel and fling the door open. And then I stop, the blinds clattering against each other with a healthy thwup-thwup-thwup in the breeze. My fingers curl again at my side, aching for a stylus. Jules Cervantes has my drawing tablet. The one thing I love more than life itself, the one thing that's more child to me than tool. I draw up a breath, my head pressed up in my hands, my chest tightness easing from the shade. It's replaced by a throb in my heart that's much, much worse. I step into my apartment and slide the door shut behind me, even when I hear Jules slam his hands into the glass. All the anger in his face has faded, leaving nothing but fear. He's pale. His eyes have gone round, so big the whites seem to swallow up the rest.

"Don't go, then. You don't even like parties. You're in danger, Shiro. Real danger."

"Yeah, no shi—" I catch a glimpse of the cross that's been torn off the wall and swallow up the rest. "—No crap, Jules. I'm always in danger. You think I'd know I could survive my guts exploding if I hadn't experienced it first hand?"

The fear doesn't ease in his expression. If anything, it's clearer, as clear as the veins bulging in the side of his neck. His mouth presses into another one of those hard lines, and I find with some relief that his cigarette scent doesn't reach through the door. He shakes his head.

"I can protect you." His hand touches at his holster. His voice is pleading. "It's my job."

And for some reason, that fills me with steel. I refuse to let him scare me. Refuse to thicken his ego by letting him think I need his protection or even want it.

I rip my hands off the glass. "Screw you." The blinds slap back in place to hide Jules' desperate face, and I stomp away, my artist hands squeezing into white-knuckled fists as Jules' cries fade.

I'm going to that lousy party, and no vampire or kidnapper will stop me. As Roslyn regards me coolly with a Corona in hand, I throw Jules' rose to the ground and crush it under my heel.

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